Notes on D: Giants benefit from shifts

May, 14, 2014
May 14
2:01
PM ET
Is it perhaps a coincidence that the two National League teams currently playing at a 100-win pace, the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants, are the two rated to have fared the best at using defensive shifts?

Perhaps. But it strikes us as worth noting.

That the Brewers are getting good value from their infield shifts is not surprising, as shifting has been a staple since Ron Roenicke became their manager in 2011.

That the Giants are also getting good value is also intriguing. Their infield has been credited with 7 Defensive Runs Saved, a year after finishing with -6. They are turning 78 percent of groundballs into outs, a rate that ranks third-best in the majors behind the Athletics and Rockies.

Think that might have something to do with why Tim Hudson has pitched so well?

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com talked with Giants coach Ron Wotus about the Giants’ use of shifts this season.

The Giants have taken a reasoned approach to shifts, in contrast to a team like the Astros that is using shifts in abundance. The Giants are tied for 13th in shifts used with 110, on pace to nearly triple last season’s total of 449. Baseball Info Solutions has credited them with saving the Giants six runs, based on how effective the Giants have been at getting outs with the shifts.

"It’s a game of percentages," Wotus told Baggarly. "That’s the thing. The percentages might (favor) the shift, but using good judgment on how you’re approaching the hitter, sometimes that’s better than going with the percentages.

"All of it, the charts and information, it’s all valuable. But the instinct of the player is still your most tremendous asset when it comes to defending hitters."

The combination thus far seems to have allowed Wotus’ team to take a (pardon the pun) Giant step forward.

Baseball Tonight takes: Boone on Arenado; Perez on improved defenders
I wanted to get the thoughts of a third baseman on the defensive play of Nolan Arenado, the runaway leader in Web Gems this season and the reigning NL Gold Glove third baseman, so I turned to "Baseball Tonight" analyst Aaron Boone.

Boone saw Arenado in spring training 2013 and liked what he saw then. He likes what he sees now even more.

"There is a recklessness to the way he plays and that’s a compliment," Boone said. "He can make the most difficult athletic plays, and he doesn’t have to stop to gather himself when doing so. He’s reckless, but completely under control."

I asked Boone what Arenado could improve upon, noting that he is the leader among third basemen in both video-reviewed Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays & Errors. Boone had a one-word response:

"Consistency."

I also asked Eduardo Perez the same question I asked a couple of our analysts last week: Name a defender who you think has improved the most from last year to this year. He gave me two.

"Josh Donaldson. I like him a lot. He expects every ball to be hit to him and he’s really good from side to side."

"Alexei Ramirez: I don’t know that there is anyone who is as good at making the routine play as he is now."

Who’s best at handling tough throws?
In writing about the key defensive play made by Lucas Duda to end the first Mets-Yankees meeting this season, I came across a note showing that Duda had good numbers on handling what are termed "difficult throws" by those who do video review for Baseball Info Solutions.

As of that day, Duda ranked third in the majors at the rate in which he was turning difficult throws into outs.

The standard setters at handling difficult throws in terms of quantity since the start of last season are Paul Goldschmidt (83) and Eric Hosmer (70).

On a per-inning basis, looking at the 30 first basemen who have played the most innings over the last two seasons, Todd Helton and Gaby Sanchez rate highest, with Goldschmidt third and Hosmer sixth, behind Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Morneau.

This data, by the way, is one of the hidden gems on FanGraphs. You can find it here under "Scp."

We can add another wrinkle to the data by factoring in mishandled throws (a stat provided to ESPN by BIS).

Helton rated best there as well, as his ratio of difficult throws handled to ones he misplayed was 46 to 1. The rest of the leaderboard is noted in the chart on the right.

Mark Simon evalutates defensive stats for the Sweet Spot blog each week. He can be found on Twitter at @msimonespn

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